'The Lion King' was by far my favorite Disney animated film as a kid and it still holds a soft spot in my heart today. It was one of the very few Disney movies that had songs I actually liked and had such a large cast of characters that were all fun to watch. This was Disney film making at its finest.
I just recently remembered that I had a dream in second grade in which Walt Disney Studios was creating a live-action adventure. I don't know why I never forgot that dream, it just stuck with me. I've always loved animals, and the idea of watching these animals come to life in a very real way excited me (and would still excite me).
What better time to create a live-action version of 'The Lion King' than in today's modern film-making era? We are living in a time where Disney is reviving our old, childhood interests by creating live-action interpretations of their animated films. In the last two years, we've seen films like 'Maleficent' and 'Cinderella' and we know that they are currently working on 'Beauty and the Beast' and that a 'Little Mermaid' movie is inevitably going to appear soon as well.
Why It Could Work
Many might say that it would be impractical because there would literally be no humans in the film. To that I'd say, have you ever watched a nature documentary like 'Planet Earth' or 'Life' and wondered what these animals were saying? Or rather, what they would say if they could say anything? And there's an interest there too for both young and old. Everyone loves animals (it's why we have zoos) and we love to watch them do their thing, it'd basically be like that.
So seriously think about how visually appealing this movie could be! Even some of the more minor moments of the original animated feature could translate an epic visual treat for audiences. For instance, when Simba doesn't recognize Nala once they are adults, that whole fight might have been cool animated, but in real life it would have look more like this:
Others might even say that it would be too much work. How could they create this movie and not have it come off as some cheap quality work like 'Cats & Dogs' or 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua'? But once again, I'm not swayed by the doubt. If anyone's ever watched 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe', they'll know that animating a talking lion doesn't have to look cheap and can even be translated pretty majestically.
Casting the Characters
Now that I've explained how and why the film could work. I want to dive into some of the fun stuff and actually cast the characters using actors/actresses we know and love from some of today's best movies.
For the role of Simba, you need someone who can give off that young, naive, coming-of-age experience through their voice. But there's a certain maturity as well, that Simba obtains by the climax of the movie and so we need someone who can balance both those very well. With that in mind, I choose one of my favorite all-time actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The man's a great actor and I think he's a fun-loving one as well. One of my all time favorite movies of his is ' Days of Summer'. I feel that his character goes through those same steps of naivety into maturity, though the life experiences are separated completely.
2. Timon and Pumbaa
For Timon, I wanted someone who could be energetic and witty. Someone who both children and adults could get a laugh at. There was no better person in my mind for the part than Steven Carell.
I'm currently re-binge-watching 'The Office' and there's no other television show who has a character like Michael Scott. Steve just knows how to play off of people's actions and reactions. He's comedy gold and since he a lot of experience doing voice acting in movies like 'Despicable Me' and 'Over the Hedge', I think he should be a shoe-in.
Now, for Pumbaa, I need someone who plays a more dry sense of humor. Someone who could easily be the one who often has things go over their head but also provides that absent-minded sort of character. Someone, who I think would be great for this is Zach Galifianakis.
Now, I know Zach doesn't necessarily have that deep, throaty, raspy voice that Pumbaa has. But I still think he'd play a good part for that and I wouldn't be opposed to him trying out a voice if he thought he could or needed to. But I definitely know that both him and Steve Carell could play well off each other.
For someone like Scar, you need to cast an actor who has a voice that presents itself with an unmistakable note of sinister intent. Someone who, when they speak, can make you feel uneasy no matter what they're saying. When I was fan-casting this, I knew immediately who I want to play Scar: Alan Rickman.
Alan Rickman's depiction of Snape in the 'Harry Potter' films is by far one of my favorite in that entire franchise. When he speaks, no matter what he says, it almost feels as though your going to get into trouble. He also has that sort of tone that is saturated with irritation or annoyance. These are the vocal qualities I'd expect to see in Scar.
Nala is a fighter, this is natural since it's the lioness that does the hunting. So it makes sense that her character has some spunk to her and maybe even some attitude. You'd need someone who is strong-willed yet compassionate. The actress of my choice to voice Nala is Emma Stone.
Emma Stone is a wonderful actress and I think could have some good, on-screen chemistry with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (can we get a movie with them in it anyways? That'd be awesome). She's a tough actress who knows how to balance that sort of tom-boyish quality with her femininity. She inhabits all the qualities that I believe to be necessary for Nala's character.
This is a big choice right here. Mufasa has to have that voice that could be almost as booming as James Earl Jones'. Quite frankly, I don't think there's many actors out there who have as distinctive of a voice as James Earl Jones so I try to look for the next best thing. If I were to cast Mufasa though, I'd have to cast Idris Elba.
I know, I know, I cast Idris Elba in another part that originally belonged to James Earl Jones (see my Star Wars recast here) but he just seems like a powerful actor with a powerful presence and I think that he could do Mufasa justice in a live-action film.
Many may overlook Sarabi in the 'Lion King' movie but she is an important part of the story. Without her, there could be no Simba and therefore Scar would have become ruler of pride. For someone like Sarabi, you need to have someone who could easily by a mothering type because this is a character who will live on to see her son grow up to maturity. Someone who can be sweet yet authoritative, I believe the woman who has the right voice for that is Viola Davis.
I've seen her in movies before that she's done well in but I still had to listen to her talk during interviews with my eyes shut to see if she had the right voice. Of course, my gut instinct was right (in my opinion) and I think she could do well as the voice of the mother of Simba and wife of Mufasa.
You need to get someone who can pull of the fluster eccentricity that Zazu gives off. Someone who can be energetic and can display the amount of stress they're feeling. Because this is a character is the majordomo for Mufasa, you can imagine the stress that this poor little bird is probably under. Who could voice Zazu in such a way that would be fitting for the bird's character? No doubt about it, Simon Pegg!
Look all of Simon Pegg's roles he's played. Whether he was Nicholas Angel in 'Hot Fuzz', Scotty in the 'Star Trek' movies, or Benji Dunn in the 'Mission: Impossible' movies, he always feels like his blood pressure is too high to count. He has a stressful energy about him that would translate well through Zazu's character. Just imagine all the time he's gone and one that high-pitched, squeaky shout when he's stressed. That's Zazu.
Now this one was a tough choice. I need an actor who has or can at least execute properly a very good authentic African accent. Djimon Hounsou is one of the actors that came to mind first but his voice is too deep and intimidating. So I had to do some digging and look for actors who are first generation or at least second generation African descent. What I found in my digging as an incredible actor with an incredible range, David Oyelowo.
Now, David has a British accent naturally it seems but I know that he could easily pull off a good African accent because he's done impressions of his father who does have a thick accent and it sounds perfect for Rafiki. His voice is not too deep and I know that this mentor-like character could be a great for an actor of his caliber.
9. Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed
Now, to get through these fast, I won't take too much time so I'll just put in here the two actors that I think would be good for Shenzi and Banzai (I'll discuss Ed afterwards). For someone like Shenzi, you need a loud female who's outspoken and even headstrong. For Banzai, you need a more wily man but not in the scary British kind of way. More in the weird and awkward way. For these two hyenas, I'd cast Melissa McCarthy and Steve Buscemi.
Now, for Ed, well, Ed never really spoke. He was the stupid one and almost primitive in his head. So, I think it would perfectly acceptable to have this dopey hyena be voiceless and speak more through his slap-stick actions than anything else.
I know there may be questions like "what about young Simba and Nala" but I didn't want to cast those because I'm not too familiar with child actors that I could just choose any of the top of my head. I'm sure whoever they'd get could do great for those scenes.
I debated whether or not I should ever do this article but I'm really glad I did. It was fun choosing actors to play these lifelike animals in my fantasy, live-action 'Lion King' movie. I know above I mentioned movies like 'Cinderella' and 'Beauty and the Beast' getting a live-action makeover, and those might have been not the best because there aren't that many animal characters to have in those films. But, I almost forgot there are two 'Jungle Book' movies coming out. Now, chances are that at least one of them will be live-action, and I'm confident it will be the one directed by motion-cap king, Andy Serkis. So, we'll see how those movies do and that'll help us gauge whether or not a live-action 'Lion King' movie could succeed.
So, what did you think of my reasoning behind the 'Lion King' live-action movie? What did you think of my casting choices? Would this be a movie you'd want to see? Be sure to share your thoughts and strong-opinions below. Be sure to also vote in the poll!